By Spencer . November 17, 2011 . 5:10pm
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword begins with Link on a floating continent. He wakes up from his room in the Knight Academy where he and Zelda reside. Zelda is not a princess in Skyward Sword, she’s the headmaster’s daughter and has a habit of pushing Link around. Before you can take part in a ceremony, Zelda shoves Link off a ledge into the clouds to make him practice flying his giant red bird. Link’s Loftwing doesn’t show and your first quest (after a daring rescue by an apologetic Zelda) is to find it. Still dressed in common clothes, Link picks up a training sword and cuts his way into a nearby cave.
Skyward Sword’s intro goes on for about another hour where we meet Groose who has a crush on Zelda. At the Wing Ceremony players learn how to fly a Loftwing by pointing and flapping its wings by shaking the remote up and down to gain altitude. While you’re learning the controls, Skyward Sword builds up the relationship between Link and Zelda. A few segments allow Link to talk to Zelda by picking choices like how he reacts to Zelda’s new outfit. There isn’t enough time for the two characters to get serious, but a friendship with a hint of budding romance is implied. The real game begins after Zelda is caught in a tornado and lands on the Surface, which is treated as a foreign world with an air of mystique. Residents in Skyloft pass down legends about the Surface, but no one has traveled there before. Link will have to be the first (well, technically second) if he wants to save Zelda.
Before Link leaves he picks up the Goddess Sword and pulls it from a stone. Players act out this typical fantasy film scene, by raising their arm towards the ceiling to have Link brandish the sword to the sky. This is actually a story-torial since this motion makes Link charge a Skyward Strike, a projectile attack that also activates objects left by the Goddess. Fi, who was guiding Link to the blade, reveals herself after Link removes the sword as a watery blue figure with a cold, computer-like personality. As a guide, she doesn’t nag players like Navi because it’s up to the player to call her for advice by pressing down on the remote’s D-pad. Fi can identify monster weak points and give Link hints. While Fi won’t solve puzzles for you, Skyward Sword has a series of "how to" movies to watch at the Training Facility for players that get stuck. Think of these as the game’s optional super guide system. Zelda’s father shows up in the chamber in possession of a tablet piece that opens a hole in the sky. He hands Link the traditional green outfit and explains its significance, a neat tidbit for Zelda fans.
After a goodnight’s rest and potion stocking, Link is ready for his trip to the surface. Unlike other Zelda games, Skyward Sword doesn’t have a seamless overworld. Players drop into areas and head to Skyloft, which acts like a floating hub world. The first area players land in is (surprise!) a forest. Link lands outside of a shrine, but far from the first dungeon. Not distance-wise, the temple is only a few screens away. However, every dungeon has a pre-dungeon area to complete. Usually, this is some kind of fetch quest, which makes use of the dowsing ability. Press C and the game switches to a first person perspective. Point the remote at the screen to scan the area for Zelda (i.e. dungeon entrance), hearts (handy when you’re low on life) or whatever you need to find to open the dungeon. Fields have a bit of verticality to them and similar to dungeons you can open shortcuts by pushing logs in place. You won’t be able to see all of an area’s secrets right away, Link will have to return to open new paths likely to Goddess Cubes. Hit these artifacts with a skyward strike to open new areas in Skyloft.
Nintendo has been playing with motion control since 2006 and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a culmination of all of their experiments. The game uses Wii MotionPlus to track remote movements and convert those to 1:1 sword slashes. This feature Nintendo and Earth Defense Force developer Sandlot implemented earlier for the Japan-only release Zangeki no Reginleiv. The difference between the Norse-themed giant slaying game and Skyward Sword is monsters would just run towards the screen waiting for players to hack off their limbs. You need more precise slashes to defeat Skyward Sword’s enemies. The Deku Baba plant, for example, needs to be cut with a horizontal or vertical slash. Diagonal slashes bounce off the plant’s hard shell. Bokoblins follow the position of Link’s sword and attempt to block it by holding their sword overhead to counter vertical slashes. Early in the game, you can defeat most basic enemies by swinging the remote wildly. Later, this leaves Link open to counter attacks and you’ll need to pay attention to visual cues before slashing or thrusting. An upward remote swing makes Link toss bomb flowers and new for Skyward Sword you can roll them using the same motion from the bowling game in Wii Sports. Played archery in Wii Sports Resort? Then you know how to use the bow in Skyward Sword. I played enough Wii games to find Skyward Sword’s controls intuitive, but I’m also right handed so I can’t say how a left handed gamer would fare attacking skeletons with their less dominant hand.
While Skyward Sword has less tools than other Zelda games, it introduces a few new items to Link’s arsenal. The Beetle has a couple of uses such as grabbing faraway items and hitting distant switches. I found the Beetle to be a handy scouting tool too. You can send the Beetle out to scan for a path or traps without worrying about danger. Even if you crash into a Lizardman, the Beetle doesn’t break. Players control the Beetle by pointing up or down to direct its flight path. Before firing the Beetle off you can reset the position of your remote by pressing down on the d-pad. The whip is a combat tool that lets Link disarm enemy shields and stun monsters. On the field, you can use the whip to grapple branches and swing to platforms. Link will gain new gear inside dungeons and just like other Zelda games whatever tool you find is the item Link needs to move forward.
But, your shiny new toy is not the only tool you’ll need. Nintendo created different kinds of puzzles based on this game’s smaller, but more versatile set of tools. You’ll use the Beetle often sometimes in conjunction with other items in the environment. Link also has digging claws to search for items in the ground and picks up the Gust Bellow, which lets him blow away sand, perhaps freeing objects for him to push. Yes, there are the push the block in place puzzle, but these aren’t as common as you might imagine. Skyward Sword has a diverse selection of puzzles. This Link is also more agile than his counterparts. While he can’t jump very high, Link can hang on ledges and dash up walls. The game has a stamina meter that limits Link’s athletic actions and some attacks like the spin slash. Dungeons have less rooms than the older Zelda games, but each space is comparatively more open. A boss awaits at the end of each dungeon and you’ll need to solve another (quick) puzzle before opening the door. The first real fight is against Lord Ghirahim, which has the feeling of a duel. Ghirahim will attempt to catch (and steal!) Link’s sword when you strike him. After you damage Ghirahim he makes a sword materialize and starts to take the fight seriously alternating between a dash slash and tossing spiked projectiles at Link.
Fi advises Link to return to Skyloft once Ghirahim is defeated. Once back in town, side quests like finding a lost girl open up. You can use your cache of rupees to purchase gear from the bazaar or a flying shop Link can access by hitting a bell with his Beetle. Skyloft is a different place at night and there are other things to see if Link takes a heart recovering nap. In addition to potion and weapon shops, Skyloft has two upgrade stations. A standard heart potion recovers eight hearts, but if you infuse the brew with bugs you can restore all of Link’s hearts. Weapons can be refined with items like amber relics (shaped like magatama) and blobs dropped by slimes. You can make the Beetle faster or the slingshot fire multiple deku nuts at a time with the right materials. The most important item to upgrade is your shield. It can break in Skyward Sword and reinforcing your shield increases its durability. All of the collecting reminded me of Monster Hunter since you’ll need to return to fields to collect specific bugs with the net or mine (literally) ore. Material hunting is optional, but I played so many RPGs I feel like I *need* to upgrade my gear. Fortunately, you don’t have to return to the beginning of each field you want to revisit. Link can dive down to any bird statue after saving there once. You still have to fly through Skyloft’s clouds, though. Be on the look out for ring shaped rocks with gusts of wind. Fly inside these and you can catch a time saving burst of speed.
The idea of seeing Hyrule’s past gave an Nintendo opportunity to tie-in events Zelda fans expect with clear connections to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It seemed like surprises were sprinkled around every corner and the more I played Skyward Sword, the more I wanted to see what was next.